COLUMN: Vipers in a Must Win…er…M*st W*n situation on Saturday against the Roughnecks
Week three of the ten-game XFL season seems awfully early to deem a game “must win.”
Week three of the ten-game XFL season seems awfully early to deem a game “must win.” So I’m not going to call this weekend’s Tampa Bay Vipers game against the Houston Roughnecks that.
I’ll call it a M*st W*n.
Because really, that’s where we are. A win to keep themselves in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Division and, perhaps, a win to keep the team from mutiny.
Tampa will have home-field advantage for the first time this season, joining the St. Louis BattleHawks as the two teams that have had to wait the longest for the first game on their own turf. We’ll see how many turn out to help motivate the Vipers.
Despite being 0-2, Tampa’s peripheral numbers look good. Their defense has had its moments, and the offense has moved the ball well despite the low scoring output. Cleaning up the red zone woes would cure a lot of their ills.
Other than that, just two weeks into the season, the team doesn’t have much going for it. Starting quarterback Aaron Murray will miss his second straight game due to injury. But he’s not the only walking wounded as six other starters have either sat out practice or been limited participants due to injury this week.
Neither Taylor Cornelius nor Quinton Flowers engendered much confidence at the QB position in Murray’s stead last Saturday. Can they find some consistency this week against the Roughnecks, who, oh by the way, are 2-0 and have shown to be one of the XFL’s most explosive offenses? Not exactly a cakewalk for the Vipers.
Speaking of offenses, Head Coach/General Manager Marc Trestman went into his archives to shore up that side of the ball, bringing in Tampa native and CFL legend S.J. Green to provide depth at wide receiver. At 34, Green’s best days are behind him, but he knows Trestman’s offense (he was coached by Trestman in the CFL) and how he operates.
Trestman himself could be on the hot seat, as rumors of locker room unrest have come out this week. If Green doesn’t provide a spark, how will the players feel about Trestman bringing in one of his cronies to take another player’s spot? Will the whispers of discontent grow louder if 0-2 turns into 0-3?
There are teams that are worse off than the Vipers in the chemistry department: Both the LA Wildcats, with the firing of defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson after one game and the trade of defensive captain Anthony Johnson soon after, as well as the New York Guardians, whose offensive staff was called out by QB Matt McGloin on national television last weekend, have had much more public issues. Some of the frustration could arise because Tampa was picked by many to finish near the top of the standings; results have not met expectation thus far.
Expect a raucous crowd for the home opener, but if the Vipers don’t win, future home games could feel empty in cavernous Raymond James Stadium, one of the larger parks in the league. Tampa was not one of the best-selling tickets in the league to begin with.
It’s true that just two games into the season, the Vipers are feeling some pressure from within and from the outside to win and win now. Just don’t call Saturday a Must Win. Instead, let’s call it a M*st W*n, and see what happens.